Small Group Leadership: How to Encourage People to Talk
For people who are content just sitting and listening, how do you encourage them to talk in a small group? Permit me to over-generalize. There are some people who are extroverts and they often talk without thinking or without considering that there are other people in the room. Then there are introverts, who would rather die than talk. The purpose of the home group (small group) is to connect people to worship God, equip people in grace to become more like Jesus and multiply to reach the world with the gospel. If people only sit and listen they will never spiritually advance into the aspects of equipping and multiplying. Therefore, leaders must encourage people to talk and even take active roles of leading and facilitating. How can a leader accomplish that?
Why don’t people talk? They have not been discipled regarding spiritual growth. They had probably said something in the past that embarrassed them and they don’t want to look like a fool again. Or maybe they gave a wrong answer and the leader or other participants made fun of their wrong answer. They feel like they failed and no one wants to fail. Or they want to be approved and if they give an answer that is off topic, a little “weird,” or not very spiritual, they might be found out as a spiritual fake. People are inhibited because they don’t want to look like a fool, to fail, or to be found out as a spiritual fake. It is because fearis a great inhibitor for speaking in public, even if there are only a dozen people.
I know many people who are greatly inhibited. They may be introverted or maybe hurt in some other situation that makes them willing to be a part of the group, but not wanting to risk saying something others will criticize or ridicule. In any case, they will need encouragement to participate. Here are a few suggestions to encourage quieter people to talk.
First, get people talking with an ice breaker. An ice breaker is a question, activity, prayer request time, or humorous illustration that requires each individual to participate and respond. I normally use one of the above and then ask for a response from every person. The activity or question must be easy enough that anyone can participate or answer the question. It can be as easy as, “What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up?” That was from a recent Message Based Discussion Question from a sermon on “Music and Worship.” I have also led playing the piano and getting everyone to sing a well-known song and then asking what their favorite song was. Everyone can respond to that.
Secondly, affirm what is said. When a person responds to an answer, verbally affirm the words, without adding to what they say. Your affirmation can be words, a tone of “Hmhmm!” or pleasure with your face to the person. Have good eye contact when someone is talking. Don’t be concerned about what you are going to say next. Show by your face and body language that you are interested in what they have to say.
Thirdly, use simple questions to get the person talking. Use follow up questions once they have spoken to give them immediate encouragement. In the Message Based Discussion Questions, especially in the “Digging Deeper” section, I ask a simple question based on the message or a passage of Scripture with a fill in the blank line. Then I ask one or more other questions as follow up questions. The fill in the blank is something just about anyone could answer, and that gets the cogs going so they will risk answering the other “deeper” questions.
Fourthly, when a quiet person speaks, affirm them without making an issue of them. This is an advance on the second principle, because it means that you should not patronize the person. People who don’t like to talk, do not want you to make an issue of them. They want to be included with the group. If you make an issue of their response, whether brilliant or not so brilliant, they will be less inclined to respond in the future. Affirm, but do not go overboard in your words. Treat the person like you appreciated what they said, but you non-verbally considered that they would know the answer like anyone else.
Fifthly, laugh with people, not at people. Laugh loudly to bring joy, happiness and even hilarity. But never laugh at the person. You can laugh at the response if it was funny, but never so that the person thinks you are laughing at him. He will clam up and you will need weeks of assurance or affirmation to get him to talk again!
It’s up the leadership team to help people talk. If people don’t talk, they will never learn to disciple others. If they do not learn to disciple others, they will never be equipped, nor will they multiply disciples for the sake of the kingdom. It is not about the leader doing all the talking. It is about encouraging people to talk, so they can learn to articulate (explain) biblical truth and become leaders themselves.